Friday, March 18, 2016

Divine Blood in GUMSHOE, Preliminary Thoughts

As stated above, this preliminary thoughts on how to do a GUMSHOE version of the setting.

To make things simple, I'm just going to link to the Divine Blood page (which really you could get to by linking to the page menu bar above so I guess I'm making more work for myself) rather than repeat extensive explanation of the setting.

Divine Blood Page

Appropriate Stories

If you are interested in Divine Blood for the potential anime-esque superheroics or hijinks filled slice-of-life you might be better off with a different system, but there are several story concepts that fit well with the investigative focus of GUMSHOE, these will be similar to the stories which fit the Urban Shadows PbtA game as well.

The Secret Society Tangle - Divine Blood is rife with secret societies ranging from as harmless (and helpless) as the Community to as malignant as the Path of the Golden Dawn. In Night's Black Agent's terms, DB is primarily a Stakes mode. Most of the powers can be deceptively placed as heroic or villainous. However, the tangle of alliances, secrets and the operating philosophy of groups like the Dawn (which exist to build for power for its members and sports members that are part of numerous other organizations) make a Mirror or Burn mode relatively easy. Dust mode is usually not going to fit in this setting. One of the major problems of the setting right now is that the ostensible guardians aren't talking to each other and some don't even know about each other. There is some overlap, the nations of the free world makes frequent use of Avalon mercenaries and Psyche freelance psychics, even though most of the public doesn't yet believe in psychics, Faustians and Heralds manipulate local law enforcement (often bending the laws prohibiting Gods and Demons from interfering in wide scale human politics by employing many humans as full members).

Supernatural Law Enforcement - Whether you're talking a member of the Psyche secretarial pool investigating a supernatural serial killer or the Eyes of Ra and Shadows seeking rogue Gods and Demons respectively, there are a number of places where the focus is on investigating a crime and capturing the perpetrator. This carries the extra fun of the fact that the supernatural currently isn't public and thus they try to keep things secret...and murder is mostly frowned upon. Mutant City Blues suggestions on police work might help here. In the place of the normal underworld organizations, serial killers and hate groups you have rogue Nirvanite Houses such as House Tinnia ruled by Zeus, cults seeking to free Balor from his prison in the Abyss, some of the more distasteful of the human sorcerer families, magicians stalking and killing non-humans and Talents in order to permanently acquire their abilities, and various anti-supernatural organizations like the Rock of Ages.

Occult Investigation - What is or is not occult depends on who you are. A Youxia (Chinese/Mongolian intelligence agency) operative would likely consider a werewolf as less than extraordinary and, in likelihood, a harmless bystander while an FBI agent or amateur paranormalist might freak out. Gods, Demons, the Families and Psyche would have even heftier tolerances. These tolerances aren't particularly linear, however. There are things humans are doing with technology that would really freak out Gods and Demons if they knew about it. Nameless Things are still sealed all over the place, the Demoness of Smoke almost got herself killed re-sealing one in Iceland recently (the fight was hidden in a volcanic eruption). People have lost track of the prisons of some of the known Undead. The evolution of Visionaries among humans means that they can eventually become their own variety of Immortal, but it also means the possibility of devourers, soul-eating mad proto-immortals spreading their soul through multiple bodies. The Gods have also never successfully suppressed all of the knowledge on becoming a Titan and defections have brought that knowledge to the Demons, not that anybody sane would want to be a Titan, especially given a few minutes conversation with Aphrodite, but there was at least one near thing in the past two thousand years. For more low level people, running across some remnant of an ancient Demon or God bioweapon such as grave moss (which turns people into homicidal ghouls) would be worth a lot of horror. Trail of Cthulhu rules work here, but again, consider the characters. The things that are horrific to a Demon or Sorcerer might be too far outside the concepts an amateur occultist understands for them to react badly.


The MCB method is tempting, but for active Psychics, I would think about having pools for Manipulative (affecting the physical world around you including other people), Metabolic (affecting your physical self) and Sensitive (mental powers and non-physical senses). This would be good for the very flexible trained psychics with a host of techniques like sorcerers as well as people with very versatile inherent powers like conceptual controls or Demonic and Godly Realms and Domains. These pools would be spent along with a General Ability in order to give that General Ability a more supernatural flavor. This is something I'd have to heavily sit down and think about and I have a few too many projects at the moment for more than preliminary thoughts.

Due to the fact that sacrifice to achieve success is within the nature of the setting, I think it would be an idea to allow players to spend Health or Stability after a roll in order to make a success out of a failure. This could be explained as in diving to grab the bioweapon vial before it shatters and breaking a bone in the heroic attempt or it could represent corruption (psychic exhaustion) when you stretch your limits as a psychic.

Note that not every non-human is actively psychic. Most vampyrs don't even know what they are (denial of the signs is strong) and go through life thinking they're a human with unusual genetic disorders. (genetically speaking, they resemble humans but their Life-Force is a significantly different color so psychics consider distinct, even though they generally are born from humans and rarely breed true). And for a lot of low-level psychics there's not much distinction between their abilities and the use of a skill. A non-psychic Raven (think harpy, though many consider that a rude term), for example, is easy enough to model with some extra Hand-to-Hand to represent their clawed feet and some extra Athletics to represent their wings (which aren't enough to give true flight) extra damage from the claws could be represented by something like the Special Weapons Training buy in NBA or just handwaved as Health being an abstraction and their higher HTH Ability being enough explanation. A sidhe with some mild empathy might be more appropriately modeled with high Reassurance than giving them specific powers.

In fact a lot of powers can be defined this way. In terms of deadliness, there's very little difference between a highly trained spec-ops soldier with no psychic training or active Talent and a highly trained sorcerer using channeling to telekinetically reinforce their strength and speed. Both can be reliably modeled with high Hand-to-Hand, Weapons, Shooting and Athletics Abilities. A jorougumo with the poison ability whose learned to use it for medical application could be explained by a high level of Medic and still require a medical kit because their power won't help with gunshots.

The only reason I am thinking of using the Sensitive, Manipulative, Metabolic Abilities is to have something to spend from that can't be just explained as a differently effective Ability use. Things like projecting a chi blast or using telepathy (dependent on the nature of the info pulled) or shapeshifting.

Power scale might be a problem, most of the GUMSHOE games are targeted at power levels in the lower levels of the Divine Blood universe (much of the playtests hung out in the same lower power level, though...just because my playtesters prefer that power level in general.) For example, most Gods and Demons aren't really all that dangerous and pretty clear civilians, but in theory they could access enough power to make life on Earth miserable for everybody. This is similar to the fact that, in theory, any human being could get the nuclear launch codes and start a nuclear apocalypse. Similarly, a sorcerer on the level of Mao Semezou in control of a feng shui site like Washington DC could do likewise given no interference and enough time. Lots of ifs in that. World-scale power levels like that belonging to Lilitu in the novel are a matter of access granted to the pool of power harnessed within Orochi (or Ashvattha among the Gods). And she primarily has that level of power for the purpose of keeping a natural disaster from going ELE. She's also not a warrior and is in only slightly less danger from a machine gun than a human.


PC characters in RPGs advance in power and ability very quickly. Normally this is either not commented on or else handwaved and as the players being exceptional and adaptive individuals. This still works for mortal characters in Divine Blood. However, in the case of playing a four thousand year old Demonic spy who started out at the same level as a human soldier, this can represent them shaking of hundreds of years of complacence, accessing memories they've left untouched since the last time they reincarnated and generally recovering their edge as they realize "hey, this is actually dangerous."

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